MNA Fontecilla speaks at protest for asylum seekers’ rights

Frontline workers excluded from provincial training program

Avleen K Mokha

Andrés Fontecilla, the legislative assembly member for Laurier-Dorion, participated Saturday, June 6, at a rally to demand that migrant workers serving in essential services receive status.

Debout for Dignity, known by its French initials DPLD, organized the rally. The protest began from Justin Trudeau’s constituency office on Crémazie street. Fontecilla, like most attendees, wore a mask given the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fontecilla is a member of the Quebec National Assembly, where he represents the electoral district of Laurier-Dorion. Laurier-Dorion includes Villeray and Park Extension.

andres fontecilla migrant workers asylum seekers rights healthcare protest
Andres Fontecilla speaks at the protest held Saturday, June 6. Photo: Andres Fontecilla

Fontecilla says he wanted to show his solidarity for asylum seekers and immigrants who work in essential economic and health sectors.

“These workers deserve the gratitude of Canada and Quebec,” Fontecilla said in an interview with Parc-Extension News. “This recognition must translate into the regularization of their migratory status so that they can have permanent status in Quebec.”

“I will do everything I can to support these requests with the Government of Quebec and with the Department of Immigration.”

Legault must pressure federal government

The federal government has the final say on granting permanent residency.

However, the provincial government has the ability to step in.

One way would be to create a regularization program for asylum seekers and immigrant workers who work in essential fields like health, food, agriculture, and warehouses.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault said in a press briefing last month that he would consider bringing asylum seekers working in healthcare as immigrants. Legault reasoned that asylum seekers need to prove they have legitimate fear of prosecution in their country of origin.

However, Legault said that he would have to consider files “on a case-by-case basis.”

The provincial officials have drawn criticism. Fontecilla says this response is not enough.

“With the current immigration minister, Mr. Simon Jolin-Barrette, ‘case by case’ can mean refusing the files one by one.”

“In fact, it’s dangerous,” Fontecilla said.

“With the current immigration minister, Mr. Simon Jolin-Barrette, ‘case by case’ can mean refusing the files one by one.”

Fontecilla referred to how Minister Jolin-Barrette got rid of 18,000 immigration files during the study of Bill 9.

More recently, Jolin-Barrette decided to not to grant rights to thousands of foreign student professionals who were already established in Quebec.

“A fair and equitable program would include all the asylum seekers who have helped Quebec through this crisis, especially in the long-term senior care facilities,” Fontecilla said.

“Double-standard” training program

Quebec has launched a training program, which involves a three-month training period, to address staff shortage but also to give people in the health care system a break.

However, the program excludes asylum seekers. Only Canadian citizens and permanent residents can apply.

Fontecilla says this creates a double standard where workers doing the same job don’t have the same rights.  

“Before the pandemic, the senior care facilities hired –in large numbers – asylum seekers, because it is devalued work, very badly paid and with dismal working conditions,” Fontecilla said.

“When nobody wanted this job, we liked to hire them; today, when it becomes interesting, they are excluded on a technicality.”

“Now that the government recognizes the importance of this work, that it is ready to pay well for this difficult work and to hire thousands of people, suddenly, asylum seekers are no longer entitled to it! When nobody wanted this job, we liked to hire them; today, when it becomes interesting, they are excluded on a technicality.”

Working conditions related to COVID-19 outbreak

Many migrant workers become recruited through employment agencies that violate rights.

Often, newly arrived workers may not even know what their legal rights are.

Senior care facilities often do not have full-time permanent positions. As a result, workers end up rotating from facility to facility.

Outbreaks in Montreal-North, Rivière-des-Prairies, and St-Michel illustrate how the lack of permanent positions puts communities in danger. 

“Our immigrant workers must have the same working conditions, the same wages and the same protection as beneficiary attendants who are permanent residents or Canadian citizens. We cannot maintain a two-tier system where professionals doing the same job do not have the same rights.”

Frontline workers deserve residency

Fontecilla believes granting permanent residence to migrant workers is a way to recognize their contribution to the health care system.

“Our governments today have a unique opportunity to write an episode in our history that we will be proud of. We must ensure that our immigrant brothers and sisters can continue to build their lives with us. They make a huge contribution to our society and that is the minimum we can do to show our gratitude.”

Systemic racism

In 2018, the top five birth countries of asylum seekers in Québec were Nigeria, India, Mexico, the United States and Haiti. That means a majority of asylum seekers are visible minorities.

Fontecilla believes that many problems of immigrant communities and asylum seekers connect to systemic racism. Systemic racism refers to the ways that institutions exclude and harm groups due to their race.

“There is no doubt that there is systemic racism in Quebec,” Fontecilla said. “To move forward, we must first admit it.”

“As for the rights of asylum seekers, I think there is a deep problem of understanding and recognizing the contribution of these people to Quebec society. To fight for the rights of immigrants is to fight for Quebec and its future.”

This story was first published in print for the June 12 issue of Parc-Extension News. Click here to read the full issue.